JERUSALEM — It is not unusual for Israeli security forces to shoot Palestinian terrorism suspects. In the past month, it has happened three times in Jerusalem, a city roiling with anger and violence.
It is also not unusual for the incidents to be captured on video. But the grainy black-and-white recording of police shooting a man in the Galilee early Saturday has lit a fuse in Israel, sparking praise and condemnation, and raising bigger questions about police conduct, allegiance to the state and who, really, is an Israeli and who is not.
Israeli news stations on Sunday night were analyzing the video footage frame by frame. Everybody has an opinion.
The recording is sensational, in part, because the man shot by the Israeli police is an Israeli citizen who happens to be a Muslim and Arab.
Arabs account for more than 20 percent of the population of the Jewish state of Israel. Although they are guaranteed full rights, some complain that they are treated as second-class citizens, while many Jewish citizens view their Arab counterparts with suspicion. (Arab citizens, for example, do not have to serve in the Israeli army. Then again, neither do ultra-Orthodox Jews.)
The latest incident began early Saturday morning when Israeli police went into an Arab village of Kafr Kanna in northern Israel to arrest a man authorities say had discharged a stun grenade in a feud between Palestinian clans.
The video, which you can see below, shows 22-year-old Khayr al-Din Hamdan run up to the police vehicle and stab at the windows and doors.
Warning: The content in this video is graphic.
As the officers get out of the car, Hamdan turns away from the vehicle and appears to be retreating. The police aim and fire and Hamdan goes down.
Then they drag him by his arms, bundle him into the back seat and speed away. The entire incident takes place in a minute. Hamdan died later at a hospital.
“Where did they put the mortally wounded young man in that cramped space?” Haaretz columnist Oudeh Basharat asked, expressing disgust. “A likely assumption is that they put him on the floor of the car, at the feet of the officers who had shot him moments before.”
After the shooting, police told their attorneys that they thought their lives were in danger, that Hamdan was wielding a knife (an object of some kind is visible in the video), and that they had fired a warning shot, which is not visible in the recording.
Videos are tricky evidence, as any investigator will say. The source of the viral video clip is unclear — although no one has disputed that it is real. It appears to have first surfaced on the Arab Israeli news Web site Panet.
The video appears at first to suggest that the police office who alights the vehicle on the passenger side is the shooter. But attorneys for the police have told Israeli media that the officer in the driver’s seat (who is just barely visible as a shadow at the top of the frame) shot Hamdan.
The Justice Ministry is investigating the incident and the recording.
“They killed him in cold blood because he was an Arab,” Hamdan’s father told the Israeli newspaper Maariv. “If he had been a Jew, it wouldn’t have ended that way.”
The video sparked protests in Kfar Kanna, which included clashes between young demonstrators who launched rocks and fireworks at police, who responded with tear gas.
A general strike among Israeli Arabs was announced by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee on Sunday and protests continued into Monday, with shops and schools shuttered.
Reaction from Israeli politicians has been swift — and has reflected deep divisions between Jews and Arabs.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, the third most powerful member of the governing coalition, said, “A crazed Arab terrorist attacked a police car with a knife in an attempt to murder the officers inside.”
He praised the officers for doing their job.
Ahmad Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, said the police officers killed Hamdan, who posed no danger to them. “This is a street-gang-style assassination,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to demonstrations in Kfar Kanna, and appeared to zero in on the protesters waving Palestinian flags.
“We will take action against stone-throwers, those who block traffic arteries and those who call for establishing a Palestinian state in place of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said. “Whoever doesn’t respect Israeli law will be punished to the fullest extent. I will direct the interior minister to consider stripping the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel.”
Nothing happens in a vacuum in Israel. A few days before Hamdan was shot, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem plowed his van into a group of Border Police officers and passengers awaiting a train on the Jerusalem Light Rail line. Police killed the assailant at the scene.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch commended the quick response, saying, “A terrorist who attacks civilians should be sentenced to death.”
Critics said the minister was content to see such perpetrators killed at the scene, rather than proceed with arrests, trails and possible prison terms.